Inside Interview with San Diego’s Rich Hill

Rich Hill (USD photo)

Rich Hill (USD photo)

Rich Hill is in his 26th year as a head coach at the collegiate level, and his 16th at the University of San Diego. He’s had 22 winning seasons and has helped the Toreros to West Coast Conference Championship titles in 2002, 2003, 2007, 2008 and 2010. Last year, he led USD to a 37-25 record and a West Coast Conference Tournament title. He also coached Kris Bryant, who won the Dick Howser Trophy and Golden Spikes Award and was the second overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft.

In addition to guiding the programs at California Lutheran University and the University of San Francisco, Hill was the head coach for the Chatham A’s of the esteemed Cape Cod League (from 1990-93, winning the league title in 1992) and has been an advisor for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree (Physical Education) in 1985 from Cal Lutheran. He played one season of professional baseball in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.

Inside Pitch recently caught up with the high-energy leader of the USD program:

IP: You’ve become well-known for how you implement the mental game in your program. What are some of the things you’re doing?

RH: We pride ourselves on the mental game. We bring in guest speakers and I think we might be the only program in the country that uses meditation and breathing before games. We really concentrate on the breath. We do a lot of imagery and a lot of visualization.

You’re going to spend so much time developing the bodies, you can forget about the mind. When you get to the big league level and even the Division I level, that’s kind of the separator. Everything is about process, and I really think that’s the key to our start this year- our guys are locked just in on process, on toughness, and immersing ourselves in the present moment.

IP: What are some of the challenges and opportunities of coaching at a private school on the west coast?

RH: At a private school you’re looking at cost of attendance, that’s always kind of a prohibitive factor. We’re going to have between 17 and 21 guys on scholarship. That’s just the life of a private school, that’s life in the West Coast Conference.

On the west coast, you’re going up against Cal State Fullerton, UCLA, Long Beach, Irvine- all the Pac 12 and Big West schools- those guys are going to have 27 players on scholarship. They have great facilities and great coaches, so I think that’s a challenge. On the positive side, there’s millions of good players out here, you know?! They can’t get everybody, and neither can we, so it evens out.

IP: What is your philosophy on hitting, specifically with ‘staying inside the ball?’

RH: With staying inside the ball, we’re trying to hit the inside seam, if you want to break it down to that specific of a visual. It’s going to create a little bit of backspin. I think it allows these hitters to stay closed and right to the ball, and through the ball. Most of the pitches that we see are going to be away, or breaking balls or changeups, so you need to stay closed.

Indiana gave us a real good drill, they’re one of the best hitting teams in the country. We’ve taken two of our Hack Attacks, elevated them and thrown hard sliders to righties, hard sliders to lefties. We’ve really seen a dramatic improvement on that. Also with Ray Birmingham’s drill, with an angled ATEC machine on the field, really accentuates staying inside the ball and staying on the baseball.

IP: What has your experience been with the construction of Fowler Park?

RH: It’s been a 15-year project. It wouldn’t have happened without our A.D. [Ky Snyder], who had a relationship with Mr. [Ron] Fowler [San Diego Padres owner] and his wife [Alexis] from way back. I had an opportunity to recruit their son, and we developed a relationship. In 2007 we were a national seed and had to host at San Diego State. We went ‘0-2 and a barbeque’ and everybody was like ‘you know, we really need to start getting into this thing!’ We had a couple different groups, we had some traction a couple different times, and in time it just kind of all came together.

IP: You’ve had the chance to get to know Jim Harbaugh [head coach of the San Francisco 49ers]. What’s he like?

RH: Love Jim Harbaugh, one of my favorite people in the world. That guy is energy, passion, that all comes through when you see him on TV and on the sidelines, that’s what the general perception of him is. He is absolutely mindful. What I mean by that is when you’re talking to him, he’s looking at you in the eyes, cares about what you say, and is just in to it. Everything he does, he does with mindfulness and a passion- there wasn’t too much else on his mind other than winning. He’s a great family guy, he’s a great friend, he’s awesome.

IP: Tell us about your other favorite pastime, surfing.

RH: It’s just part of the deal. I’ll spend a few weeks on the north shore of Kauai in December every year, really trying to take my surfing and standup paddle boarding to another level. Surfing for me is serious: I love it, it’s a passion, I want to see how good I can get. And baseball is baseball- we want to see how good we can get here. I’ve grown up close to Santa Cruz, I was always in the water, always in the ocean, it’s just always been a part of my life.